A weekend in Ghent
Ghent can be found in the top of my list of favorite cities and the reason why is fairly obvious: it has everything! Not only is it one of the most beautiful Flemish cities thanks to its rich history and architectural patrimony, at the same time it is incredibly modern and dynamic. There is no other place in Belgium where contemporary design, art, fashion, gastronomy and music blend so perfectly with the past. Add a human scale and a veggie predilection to that and you get why I'm hooked on this city.
Shopping at De Post | Korenmarkt 18, 9000 Gent
Upon your arrival in Ghent head to the Korenmarkt, probably the most frequented square of the city. A first and brilliant example of "old meets new" can be found in the former post office turned shopping mall. Simply renamed "De Post", it is a gorgeous, open space where you'll find the brands Sissy Boy, Men at Work, Skins Cosmetics and Le Pain Quotidien. With its glass roof and original mural paintings, the place is truly mesmerizing!
Lunch at PLUS+ | Ajuinlei 14, 9000 Gent
A healthy lifestyle is not synonym for boring food. I know that and sisters Sofie & Lien definitely know it too! At PLUS+ they propose delicious salads that are made with fresh, organic and local products. Those who are feeling creative can even compose their own! This is food that is both incredibly tasty and that will do you good. Next to the salad bar, the absolute eyecatcher is the (artificial) plants ceiling that runs trough the space, definitely a Pinterest worthy decor hack!
Before or after lunch, make sure to drop by at Think Twice (Ajuinlei 15a), a must for all vintage lovers, both women and men!
Shopping and more in the Onderbergen street
In the street parallel to the Ajuinlei, you'll find multiple shopping spots that are worth a stop. Inside a beautiful mansion at nr 51, you'll find Huiszwaluw, an interior shop that sells items from brands such as Fest Amsterdam and Ferm Living, over three floors, in rooms that translate different vibes. A.PUUR.A (nr 56) is a beautiful concept store that's all about that delicate, feminine touch, whether through intimate fabrics or sophisticated accessories. At YDEE (nr 21) you can find all sorts of small design items for your home (or your friends) from the likes of Hay. And last but not least, Belgian pride Nathalie Vleeschouwer opened an airy, crisp white flagship store in this street (nr 17).
I hope you saved some room for dessert because a few steps further you can find Alice (nr 6), the tea room that fulfills all your Marie-Antoinette tinted dreams. That's right, the interior in pastel colors, complete with Versailles worthy ceiling, is to die for. But it's the delicious cakes and hot drinks that's got people coming back for more.
Shopping at Twiggy | Notarisstraat 3, 9000 Gent
Twiggy has been around since 1974 and has acquired a real fashion status as such. Through a fine selection of brands from around the world, they aim at providing clients with timeless pieces from superior quality, that will allow them to express their personal style throughout the seasons. Again here the location on itself is mesmerizing. Officially called the "Mirrorpalace", the place feels like a journey with Alice through the looking glass. With its many floors and reflections, you'd easily get lost in this shop, but that's fine since the beautiful items all around will keep you entertained.
Shopping in the Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat
Another street I would like to walk you through is the Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat. Rewind has two distinct spaces, for women (nr 44) and men (nr 13), that share the same vision on fashion inspired by the sober, Scandinavian aesthetic. This translates into brands such as Sessùn and Samsoe Samsoe for women, Carven and Comme des Garçons for men. A little further you'll find Piet Moodshop (nr 94), an inspirational boutique that's got you covered when it comes to dream tableware, golden accessories and excellent coffee table books. Owner Christophe wants everyone to leave his shop a little happier, whether from her/his purchases or just from looking at beautiful items. Mission accomplished!
Finally, you can not walk this street and not notice the sumptuous building in Eclectic style called the Vooruit (nr 23). Built originally as an "opera for the workmen", it serves nowadays as an arts center where various performances can be attended, but I guess it is most popular for its café.
Apero at Ona | Nederkouter 71, 9000 Gent
Ona & Arne invite you to sit and unwind in their charming wine bar. Their changing selection of approximately 30 wines originates from small, European farmers to guarantee the purest tastes. Whether you're in the mood for white, rosé, red or bubbles, the "menu" will undoubtedly inspire you and if you're still having trouble finding exactly what you're looking, the staff will gladly help you out. Oh and can we take a second to acknowledge that fabulous green marble floor?!
Stay at Hotel de Flandre | Poel 1, 9000 Gent
A historical city calls for a historical place to stay. The neo-classical Hotel de Flandre has served as guest house since the 19th century and has seen a few remarkable residents during that time (writers, barons, etc). You can still find that sense of grandeur in the spaces on the ground floor but with a modern twist. The hotel is located right in the city center - just a 2-minute walk away from the Korenlei - yet it is surprisingly quiet. In the morning you can enjoy a nice breakfast buffet, but I do recommend going after 10:00 to avoid crowds (the perfect excuse to stay a little longer in your comfy bed).
Dinner at Domestica | Onderbergen 27, 9000 Gent
For an unforgettable culinary experience, I recommend Domestica, a restaurant specialized in gastronomic French cuisine, housed in a sumptuous mansion from 1870. It is composed of four rooms, each with a signature color and a distinctive atmosphere. On the menu you'll find seasonal dishes but also classics such as the "Gentse waterzooi" (a local stew dish with fish and/or chicken).
If after dinner you're in the mood for a cocktail (which I'm sure you will if you're anything like me), you simply must go to Jigger's (Oudburg 16). In a vintage interior that's reminiscent of the twenties, they serve unique creations you've probably never tasted before. Prices are a little higher than average, but so is the experience!
Take a boat tour
You can't think of Ghent and not associate it with water. After all, it's thanks to the Leie and the Schelde that the city became such an important commercial hub from the 14th to the 16th century. Seeing the city from water level just adds an extra layer to your experience and the guides have many interesting facts to share with you. Boats leave every 15 minutes from the Korenlei and tours last for approximately 40 minutes. If you purchased the Citycard Gent (more about that below in the "practical information" section) it is free!
This area, the Graslei and Korenlei, is probably the most popular of Ghent. At any time of the day you can find a pleasant mix of locals, students and tourists hanging around. This is where the old harbour was located and as such it forms the heart of historic Ghent. Do take a moment to take in the beauty of the surrounding facades, some of which are hundreds of years old!
Walk through the historic center (first part)
Ghent's castle, known as Gravensteen, is the last remaining fully intact medieval fortified castle in Flanders. It is more than 1,000 years old, yet it still has the power to amaze people passing by thanks to its distinctive, imposing architecture (which is exactly what the Counts of Flanders aimed for when building it). Not far from there, in the Patershol, you can get a sense of what life must have been like in the Middle Ages. Nothing but narrow, cobbled streets that take you back in time. Nowadays you can find many restaurants in this picturesque part of town.
Distance yourself for a moment from the center and head to the Lievekaai and Sint-Antoniuskaai to experience more of that quiet, authentic Ghent. Keep your eyes open for beautiful mansions and graceful willow trees. A little further you enter the area called Prinsenhof. This is where the Counts moved in the 15th century after leaving the Gravensteen and where Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, was born. Over the years, the residence was destroyed and only the "Donkere Poort" (Dark Gate) remained.
Walk further to reach the Vrijdagmarkt, historically the main square of Ghent. In the Middle Ages, the start of the market was announced by the bell hanging on the corner house on the side of the Kammerstraat, called "het Toreken", which is still standing today. Two other remarkable buildings are the "Ons Huis" and "Bond Moyson". Build in "Fin de Siècle" style, they are legacies of Ghent's socialist engagement (just like the Vooruit).
Lunch at Holy Food Market | Beverhoutplein 15, 9000 Gent
Another brilliant conversion project is the Holy Food Market, a food market hall housed inside a 16th century chapel. With its overload of white marble and original details, it is executed perfectly. Just pick your favorites among the various food stands and have a seat in the middle to savor the dishes of your choice. Personally I'm a big fan of Bubba - Handmade Belgium Croquettes and the Magnum Pleasure Store where you can design your own guilty pleasure (dream come true, right?).
Walk through the historic center (second part)
The Werregarenstraatje or Graffiti Alley is a spot you can cross over and over again without ever getting bored because it is always changing! In this passageway street artists can practice their art freely, meaning the walls differ from one day to another. A definite must for all urban lovers.
Ghent's skyline is best known for its three towers. The Sint-Baafskathedraal houses many treasures, among which "De Aanbidding van het Lam Gods" (the Ghent Altarpiece) which is considered one of the most influential paintings ever. The Belfry of Ghent is part of the Unesco World Heritage and offers breathtaking views of the surroundings. If you dread going all the way up using the stairs, you're lucky since this belfry has an elevator! Finally, the Sint-Niklaaskerk, dating back to the 12th century, is really unique because of its mix of Gothic and Roman style and its central tower that really allows the light to enter. In between the belfry and the Sint-Niklaaskerk, you'll find the Stadshal, a structure that has been internationally acclaimed for its exceptional design. Make sure to walk under it and look up to see some of its 1,600 little windows.
The train will take you from Brussels to Ghent in less than one hour. If you're coming by car, the best option for parking is Parking Ramen (P8). It is just a 3-minute walk away from Hotel de Flandre and it will cost you €14.00/day.
Should you be interested, the Citycard Gent gives you access to all of the city's main attractions, as well as a free boat tour, bike rent and public transport. It costs €30.00 and is available at the tourist information in the "Oude Vismijn" (Sint-Veerleplein 5).